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BARBARA HICKMAN v. FRUEHAUF CORPORATION (08/17/89)

filed: August 17, 1989.

BARBARA HICKMAN, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF THOMAS HICKMAN, DECEASED, AND BARBARA HICKMAN, IN HER OWN RIGHT
v.
FRUEHAUF CORPORATION, A CORPORATION, APPELLANT



Appeal from Judgment of the court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, No. GD84-17958 Issue No. 128834.

COUNSEL

Arthur L. Schwarzwaelder, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

John A. Bacharach, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Brosky, Wieand and Melinson, JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 386 Pa. Super. Page 456]

On June 28, 1983, Thomas Hickman took delivery of a used flatbed trailer which he had purchased from Fruehauf Corporation. At or about 6:20 a.m. on the following day, while carrying a load of steel, Hickman's tractor-trailer left the surface of Interstate Route 76 in the state of Indiana

[ 386 Pa. Super. Page 457]

    and crashed. Hickman was killed. His widow, Barbara Hickman, commenced wrongful death and survival actions against Fruehauf Corporation, alleging that her decedent's fatal accident had been caused by a missing slider pin in the trailer. A jury returned a plaintiff's verdict awarding damages in the amount of Four Hundred Four Thousand ($404,000) Dollars, which the court reduced to Three Hundred Eighty-Two Thousand, Five Hundred ($382,500) Dollars to reflect No-fault benefits previously paid. Subsequently, delay damages were added in the amount of One Hundred Seventeen Thousand, Nine Hundred Thirty-Seven ($117,937) Dollars. After post-trial motions had been dismissed, judgment was entered. Fruehauf Corporation appealed.

The case took almost five days to try. After the jurors had been deliberating for more than four hours, they informed the trial court that they were deadlocked. The trial court, in the presence of counsel for both sides, instructed the jury on the importance of trying to agree on a verdict. In so doing, the court referred, inter alia, to the expense of trial, saying:

I am sure you understand the cost involved for both parties. You have seen all the depositions, so, you can see where some of the witnesses are from and it has been an expensive proposition. Also, I am sure you understand the expense to the taxpayers of which the twelve of you are part of that body . . . .

The consequence would be this: If you cannot reach an agreement, I am required by law to declare a mistrial, and this case would have to start all over again. So, I am sure you can see the importance to everybody, plus the system.

On appeal, Fruehauf Corporation argues that it was improper for the trial court, in urging the jury to agree on a verdict, to refer to the cost of litigation to the parties and the public. We disagree.

It has long been the view in this Commonwealth that "[i]t is entirely proper for a trial judge, in an endeavor to prevent another long ...


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